It was the unmistakable voice of the late Billie Holiday that helped inspire the birth of Jazz Appreciation Month. Holiday was born in April, along with Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and other jazz greats.
Smithsonian's Curator of American Music John Hasse says that in addition to these birthday anniversaries, there's another compelling reason to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month. "To further the public's understanding and appreciation of jazz as both a historical treasure and as a living treasure. [It's] a whole month devoted to celebrating this great American-born art form that has now become adopted by countries throughout the world," he says.
Jazz has stood the test of time, through the Great Depression, war, the struggle for civil rights and the changing trends in popular culture. Curator of American Music John Hasse hopes Jazz Appreciation Month will help preserve jazz's living legacy by reaching out to new audiences. "Back in the 1930s and 1940s jazz was right in the center of the mainstream of American music. As music developed - rock and roll, soul, R&B, hip-hop, rap, etc. - they've [other genres] grabbed the ears of many younger listeners and jazz is not on everybody's [minds] as it used to be," he says. "And yet, it's a music that has so much to offer. It is so rich with creativity, invention, innovation, expression, emotional depth and power, that those of us who pay attention to it think that it deserves a wider hearing."
April 29 is the 103rd anniversary of Ellington's birthday. The Duke Ellington Youth Festival is just one of the many events planned for Jazz Appreciation Month in April.
There will also be a Duke Ellington Youth Project Poetry Slam and Art Exhibition; concerts by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, the U.S. State Department's Jazz Ambassadors Trio and the Brooklyn Repertory Orchestra in concert at the Smithsonian; a performance by the Mingus Dynasty Band at VOA; a new documentary film on stride piano pioneer Willie "The Lion" Smith; an exhibition of selected items from the Smithsonian's extensive jazz archives; and a special display of Louis Armstrong's first horn.
The Smithsonian's partners and collaborators for Jazz Appreciation Month include the Grammy Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. Departments of State and Education, the National Park Service, the International Association of Jazz Educators and VOA.
For more information about Jazz Appreciation Month visit smithsonianjazz.org